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After dog cruelty conviction, Maywood mayor denies owning Hershey the pit bull

After dog cruelty conviction, Maywood mayor denies owning Hershey the pit bull
Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina, right, and his attorney Anthony Willoughby leave Compton Courthouse Tuesday after his sentencing hearing was moved to November. Medina was convicted of animal cruelty charges in August. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

After being convicted of criminal charges related to the death of a pit bull named Hershey, the mayor of Maywood is mounting an unusual two-pronged defense as he tries to avoid jail time.

First, Ramon Medina claims, he didn’t own the dog. The mayor also insists the prosecutors had it out for him because of his ethnicity, according to a motion filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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“Since he announced his candidacy in 2015, Mr. Medina has been the subject of a relentless harassment campaign by Los Angeles County authorities, all with the common theme of disparaging the good name of a Mexican American mayor on the brink of realizing his personal American Dream,” reads the motion, which asks for dismissal of Medina’s conviction.

Medina is the mayor of the tiny, Southeast Los Angeles County city that has been rife with dysfunction for years.

Since the 1970s, the 1.2 square-mile city has struggled just to exist. It has been plagued by recalls, voter fraud allegations, water problems, corruption scandals, political infighting, circus-like council meetings and financial upheaval.

But it’s doubtful Maywood has had a mayor with the particular problems that have beset Medina. The case of Hershey isn’t his only animal-related trouble.

In February, as part of a corruption probe, investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office served multiple search warrants in Maywood, including City Hall, the business of a city contractor and the homes and businesses of three current and former city council members — including Medina.

At the mayor’s automotive shop, investigators removed a computer and boxes of files, one of which was labeled "2017 City Council minutes and agendas." But animal control officers also plucked 40 roosters from the property.

The roosters, the mayor said, belonged to his son.

Medina’s travails with “Hershey” began in 2015 after the pit bull was dropped off at a shelter in Downey in February. Animal control officers noticed that animal couldn’t move and was twitching, a sign that it was severely dehydrated, according to Danny Ubario, deputy director of operations for L.A. County’s animal control department.

“Pit bulls have a muscular tone appearance, but Hershey was not like that,” he said. “You could see her ribs through her fur and you could see her hip bones on her back. Picture an extremely thin dog.”

Ultimately, Hershey was put down.

“From there the focus was on the owner,” Ubario said. “We wanted to know if the owner had done their part in providing medical care for their pet.”

City of Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina keeps an eye on investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in February while they remove items as part of an investigation into accusations of corruption in the city.
City of Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina keeps an eye on investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in February while they remove items as part of an investigation into accusations of corruption in the city. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Animal control officers were able to link the dog to Medina based on a form that had been filled out by the man who had dropped off the dog at the shelter. Authorities said the man, Bobby Wiley, was an employee of Medina and that the dog had been at his employer’s business, R&M Auto Service.

Unable to get records from Medina about the pit bull, Ubario said his agency sent the case to the district attorney to consider filing charges against the mayor.

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According to court records, a case was filed in September 2015. Medina pleaded not guilty to the charges that October. For the next three years, the case sat in the court system — until February.

During the four day trial, Medina took the stand and answered questions about the case, but invoked his Fifth Amendment right when it came to the employment of Wiley.

According to the motion, Wiley never claimed that Hershey belonged to the mayor or that he had even seen “that dog on Mr. Medina’s property.”

In August, a jury found Medina guilty of one misdemeanor count each of cruelty to an animal and failure to care for an animal. At sentencing, the mayor faces anything from probation to one year in jail.

On Tuesday, the mayor’s attorney, Anthony Willoughby, said his client’s conviction should be thrown out. On Sept. 27, Willoughby said he filed a motion to dismiss the case claiming that trial was rife with improprieties that created the unjust verdict for his client.

According to the legal motion, Willoughby argued that the long delay between the initial filing of the case and prosecution led prosecutors to rely on the hazy memories of animal control officials and witnesses. Willoughby said that made it harder to mount a mount a defense for his client. The lawyer said the prosecutor “poisoned” the jury against the mayor by calling him a liar.

“My client never owned the dog, no one testified to ever seeing the dog at his locale and Mr. Wiley in an act of mercy took the dog to the vet after finding him,” Willoughby said. “The DA argued that since Mr. Wiley, who is homeless, listed his mailing address at Mr. Medina’s business, that Wiley was an employee of Medina, which he was not. The Judge erroneously excluded Medina’s tax returns from the relevant period, which would have proved Mr. Wiley was not an employee.”

Willoughby also stated that his client told the prosecutor at the trial that he did not own the dog.

Medina’s sentencing, which was initially scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed to Nov. 7.

At a city council meeting following the announcement of his conviction in August, Medina called the case a “politically motivated witch hunt” and said he cared deeply for animals.

“I’ve been around dogs all my life and people who know me or have been to my house, they see how well taken care they are,” he said.

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